December 28, 2012 - Chickadees love black sunflower seeds! If you place a few seeds in the palm of your hand and raise your hand towards the sky, they will swoop down, tickle the palm of your hand with their tiny claws, and pick up the sunflower seeds with their bill. Then they fly to a tree where they proceed to hammer the seed on a branch to open it.
The next time your family is planning an outing why not research conservation areas in your vicinity and experience the joy of feeding birds – especially chickadees! What a beautiful way for your family to connect with nature. Seeing your children's eyes widen with amazement and awe will be a wonderful experience, and I promise you, it will instil fond memories of your time shared together.
Chickadees eat plenty of food that turns into energy, and during the short winter days, the rate of feeding is sped up. Food that is not needed for the immediate activity of flying around and foraging is stored as fat. While sleeping and fasting through long, cold winter nights the fat provides energy that the chickadees need to survive. Sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet offered at feeding stations during the winter months are very important foods for chickadees.
Fascinating Facts about Black-Capped Chickadees
- Black-capped Chickadees remember not only where they have stored different food items for the past 28 days but also which caches they have emptied. As winter approaches, chickadees tend to select caches with seeds that provide more energy.
- To conserve energy they can drop their body temperature at night by 10 to 12°C below daytime body temperature.
- A lot of their energy is depleted by feeding nestlings from 6 to 14 times an hour.
- Chickadees establish a dominance hierarchy, or “pecking order", where each bird is known to the other according to rank, which is set by their degree of aggressiveness.
- The chickadee is one of the most important pest exterminators of the forest or orchard.
Description of Chickadees
The Black-Capped Chickadee measures 12 to 15 cm (about 5 inches) from bill-tip to tail-tip, is greenish-grey above with a white underside shading to light brownish buff along its flanks and it has a long, dark-grey tail that looks like a handle. A black cap is drawn over their sparkling eyes and covers their head from cone-like bill to the back of the neck. Pure white cheek patches and a triangular black throat patch complete its most prominent features. Because chickadees inhabit such a wide variety of climates and habitats, birds from different populations may vary somewhat in size and plumage.
Where you Can Find Black-Capped Chickadees
The black-capped chickadee can be found from coast to coast, from the northern half of the United States to the south all the way to James Bay in the north, which is the southern edge of the Northwest Territories. Chickadees can also be found as far west as the Yukon and the southern half of Alaska in the North. During the winter, chickadees may wander outside of range, both to the north and south.
Chickadee Signs and Sounds
The chickadee makes at least 15 different calls to communicate with its flock mates and offspring and out of those, the best known is the chickadee-dee-dee that gives the bird its name. Using this call both male and female chickadees challenge intruders, and send information about the location of food and predators to their partners, offspring, and members of their flock. Male chickadees also sing a short ditty of two or three whistled notes - one higher and slightly longer, followed by one or two lower, shorter ones: feee-bee or feee-bee-bee. Males may sing at any time of the year, but do so mostly in the early part of the nesting season, peaking during territory establishment, nest building, and egg laying. Males sing sporadically during the day, but serenade their females with a dawn chorus that can last from 20 minutes to an hour.
Chickadee Habitats and Nests
In fall and winter, Black-Capped Chickadees live in loose flocks of 4 to 12 birds and each flock consists of mated pairs. From October to March, the flock flits from tree to tree meandering through well-travelled forest paths at a rate of about half a kilometre an hour. Chickadees keep in touch with each other by means of soft notes, "sit-sit", which is uttered at time intervals.
In the north, the chickadees usually roost in dense evergreen groves where they are sheltered from the wind and snow. Other chickadees roost in the top branches of evergreens or low down in bushy young spruces. To keep warm chickadees erect their soft, thick feathers to trap warm air close to their bodies, which serves as good insulation against the cold wintery days.
Don't Forget – bring 'black' sunflower seeds, binoculars, and a camera to capture the smiles on your children's faces while a chickadee is perched on their hands! You can thank me later.
To watch videos and listen to the sounds of the black-capped chickadees, please click on Hinterland's Who's Who.
To obtain maps and locations of the best places to feed chickadees in Ontario, please click on Grand River Conservation Authority. I wish I had a listing of all the best places to view and feed chickadees across Canada – but I don’t. If you can help me please drop me a line.